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Mean difference in live-weight per incremental difference in body condition score estimated in multiple sheep breeds and crossbreds

  • N. McHugh (a1), F. McGovern (a2), P. Creighton (a2), T. Pabiou (a3), K. McDermott (a3), E. Wall (a3) and D. P. Berry (a1)...

Abstract

Body condition score (BCS) is a subjective assessment of the proportion of body fat an animal possesses and is independent of frame size. There is a growing awareness of the importance of mature animal live-weight given its contribution to the overall costs of production of a sector. Because of the known relationship between BCS and live-weight, strategies to reduce live-weight could contribute to the favouring of animals with lesser body condition. The objective of the present study was to estimate the average difference in live-weight per incremental change in BCS, measured subjectively on a scale of 1 to 5. The data used consisted of 19 033 BCS and live-weight observations recorded on the same day from 7556 ewes on commercial and research flocks; the breeds represented included purebred Belclare (540 ewes), Charollais (1484 ewes), Suffolk (885 ewes), Texel (1695 ewes), Vendeen (140 ewes), as well as, crossbreds (2812 ewes). All associations were quantified using linear mixed models with the dependent variable of live-weight; ewe parity was included as a random effect. The independent variables were BCS, breed (n=6), stage of the inter-lambing interval (n=6; pregnancy, lambing, pre-weaning, at weaning, post-weaning and mating) and parity (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5+). In addition, two-way interactions were used to investigate whether the association between BCS and live-weight differed by parity, a period of the inter-lambing interval or breed. The association between BCS and live-weight differed by parity, by a period of the inter-lambing interval and by breed. Across all data, a one-unit difference in BCS was associated with 4.82 (SE=0.08) kg live-weight, but this differed by parity from 4.23 kg in parity 1 ewes to 5.82 kg in parity 5+ ewes. The correlation between BCS and live-weight across all data was 0.48 (0.47 when adjusted for nuisance factors in the statistical model), but this varied from 0.48 to 0.53 by parity, from 0.36 to 0.63 by stage of the inter-lambing interval and from 0.41 to 0.62 by breed. Results demonstrate that consideration should be taken of differences in BCS when comparing ewes on live-weight as differences in BCS contribute quite substantially to differences in live-weight; moreover, adjustments for differences in BCS should consider the population stratum, especially breed.

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